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Largest known portrait of Queen may return to Winnipeg along with NHL team

Artist Gil Burch in 1979 with his finished portrait of the Queen Elizabeth II for the Winnipeg Arena.

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Artist Gil Burch in 1979 with his finished portrait of the Queen Elizabeth II for the Winnipeg Arena. (KEN GIGLIOTTI / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS ARCHIVES)

WINNIPEG - She was evicted from her lofty home more than a decade ago.

Since then, she has been homeless, searching for a suitable place that could house her large frame and equally dominating presence.

Now, it seems she may have found one. The Winnipeg Jets hockey team may not be the only ones returning to the Manitoba capital. The largest known portrait of the Queen, which hung from the rafters in the Winnipeg Arena for 20 years, may also be coming home.

"I've had a conversation today which is very exciting and points to that but I can't say anything yet," said Anya Wilson, the current custodian of the portrait. "It's just an inquiry but, if it develops, I think everyone in Winnipeg will be very happy."

The iconic portrait of Queen Elizabeth II was unveiled in 1979 at the Winnipeg Arena, just before the NHL Winnipeg Jets beat the Edmonton Oilers 8-3.

It was taken down in 1999 and has since been housed in a warehouse in Whitby, Ont.

But 12 years later, Wilson said she still gets emails and phone calls from Winnipeggers about the portrait.

"This portrait was a part of their lives for many years," she said. "I have no doubt that it should come home."

Finding the portrait a new home has been a struggle, given the portrait is five metres by seven metres, Wilson said. Galleries couldn't hang it and few places could support its weight, she said.

"I think it would bring many ceilings down," Wilson said. "When it was at the Jets' stadium, it was deadbolted to the wall. You can't do that too many times to a portrait so it can't be a travelling exhibit."

The painting was done by billboard artist Gilbert Burch, who worked on it for 200 hours. It was Burch's second attempt at capturing the Queen's likeness since, in the first one, "her face wasn't right," Wilson said.

"It is an excellent painting and there is a very warm energy that comes from it," Wilson said. "It's affected many people's lives. It was big enough that they were able to see it in the seats of the stadium. It is iconic. It would be so good if she were able to return to her roots."

Winnipeg's True North Sports and Entertainment are currently in talks to buy the Atlanta Thrashers hockey team and move it to the Manitoba capital. While many say it is a done deal, there has been no formal announcement.

The city lost its beloved Jets in 1996 when they moved to Phoenix because of financial problems. Since then, Winnipeg has built a new arena — the MTS Centre — and has argued it can host an NHL franchise again.

It may even be fit for a Queen.

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Sort by: Newest to Oldest | Oldest to Newest | Most Popular 57 Commentscomment icon

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Someone is definitely fiddling with the thumbs up and down.

The comments are heavily favouring the idea of leaving that picture alone and to definitely not bring it into the mts center.

I feel bad for the artist.

Nooooooooooooooooo!

The reason why the Jets never won games was because of that picture of the queen. The eyes... its the eyes... they follow you from blue line to blue line.

I hope they dont put it up! It would look tacky and dated.

Please, keep this Queen portrait hanging in Plum Coulee or wherever it is currently stored. Seeing that ugly thing hang in the old Winnipeg Arena reminded me more of Iran and the ever-present oversized portraits of the Shah.

What good reason would Winnipeg have to hang this oversized mural of this stale, ceremonial british figurehead?

Posted by: Luke2: "That portrait is part of our heritage."

So are floods, mosquitoes, -40, a decaying downtown, roadkill and inferior politicians. That portrait sucks more than all of them.

And it's no more part of our heritage than any other farce you can name.

Don't mind a portrait of the Queen, but why not have one that looks like her !

Please don't put this portrait up in the MTS Centre. it was gaudy and annoying inside the Arena and will be worse in MTS. Hang it up somewhere where there is room for it. I hope as a younger generation comes about, we become more committed to a Canadian republic rather than this commonwealth crap. People complain about a waste of money.....the monarchy is a waste of money! It's not the 1500's anymore.....a Queen???....really???

For those of you that don't follow hockey but feel the need to express an opinion regardless, that portrait is part Winnipeg's hockey identity. When commentators discuss the return of hockey to our city that is often mentioned. Retired players often speak of it also.
We get that some of you don't enjoy sports & will complain about anything that is related to that. Others don't support the monarchy but probably favor saving heritage buildings. That portrait is part of our heritage. It looked down on all of us in the old arena whether it was a hockey game or a rock concert.

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